Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fukuoka in Five - Lunch at Washoku Yohira in Nagasaki (with a few detours on the side)

After our visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki, our Tours by Locals guide, Miyuki san brought us to lunch.  She had previously asked me what we would like to eat and I told her that 
I would prefer a place where the locals go,  that served Japanese cuisine, preferably accented 
with Nagasaki flavours.   
She made reservations at Washoku Yohira -- washoku means traditional Japanese cuisine,  and 
that is exactly what we enjoyed for lunch that day.

But first we made a  detour to the original store of Fukusaya,  makers of castela since 1624.  
Castela, a delicate honey spongecake with a Portuguese pedigree originated in Nagasaki and 
has since become a Japanese  favourite. 
You can find castela sold in Tokyo and other major cities in Japan.  I had always bought 
Fukusaya castela both to eat at home and as omiyage for friends.  
I was not about to pass up a chance to visit its oldest existing store in Yamanokuchi in Nagasaki

The store which dates back to the 1800s retains a quaint,  nostalgic air.   Fukusaya's  castela are displayed inside an old fashioned wood and glass case.  There are two kinds -- the original honey cake and  a cocoa castela -- a concession perhaps to modernity and chocolate lovers.   Both come in two sizes -- a 1000 gram box and a 600 gram box.  

I managed to control myself and bought only six of the 600 gram boxes -- which immediately 
added  3.6 kilos to the weight of my shopping bag.  But Miyuki san was so nice, she offered to 
lug two of the boxes for me.    Here we are with the friendly staff of Fukusaya -- can you see 
my happy grin?  I look just like the  cat who swallowed the castela -- honey and cocoa flavoured!

Purchases done, we headed off to lunch.  Around the corner from Fukusaya is Maruyama 
Park,  a quiet neighbourhood square with benches, trees, hydrangea bushes and in one corner, 
a bronze statue of Ryoma Sakamoto.  
Sakamoto san is a heroic  figure in Japan's history towards modernisation.  
He is typically shown wearing Japanese garb paired with very western boots.
Miyuki san said this area used to be a red light district.  Now it has been gentrified -- with 
restaurants, cafes and the city's oldest (and most expensive) restaurant.  

A few hundred meters from Maruyama Park, Miyuki san led us down these stone steps to a 
narrow alley that we would never have noticed,  if we were wandering around on our own.  
Actually, because the area does not have any famous touristy sites,  I didn't see any 
foreigners walking around.

Just at the bottom of the steps was this narrow wooden gate.  If not for the stand with the restaurant's menu done in a  pretty water-colour style stationed right in front,   I would have thought that this was a private residence.

We walked down a few steps and a small stone statue (was it a jizo?) stood by a waterfall. 
It was a peaceful and charming way to welcome guests in. 

Washoku Yohira used to be a private house, admittedly a rather large house, until it was 
transformed into  this restaurant.  There were renovations and repairs being done so there was lots of scaffolding in the front and side of the property.

We entered through sliding doors into a small foyer. Because this is a traditional Japanese 
restaurant,  we had to take off our shoes and change into slippers that the receptionist had 
graciously placed on the floor,  right in front of our feet.  A wooden cabinet off to the side is 
where guests' footwear are kept. 
Later on  as we were ready to leave,  we found our shoes again placed on the marble floor, 
ready for us to put back on.  
I am always amazed that the staff  can remember which shoes belong to which feet.

A cabinet with pieces of antique plates is the only decor at the front lobby.   
Yohira's walls are painted in a mutedly elegant golden yellow. A cream carpeted  
hallway stretches out towards the  back, with private dining rooms on both sides.   
There are more dining rooms upstairs, on the second floor.

I asked permission to peek into one of the rooms.  This mid sized room sits 6 diners on a tatami 
floor.  Windows look out onto a small pocket garden and a bamboo fence.

I had told Miyuki san that Jay and I found it difficult to eat on a tatami mat, unless it was a 
dropped floor. We were ushered into a room right at the front of the house -- a bright cheerful dining room surrounded by floor to ceiling windows.  There were just two tables for four and a
long counter that seats  six.

Washoku Yohira does not have an a la carte menu but offers several kinds of set menus -- 
starting at 1,800 yen all the way to 7,000 yen per person.  Washoku or traditional Japanese 
cuisine always works with what is in season, with deep respect for nature's bounty.  Only the 
freshest seasonal ingredients are used.   After a few minutes, we were each brought a lovely 
basket filled with different kinds of pretty little plates and bowls, each filled with an assortment of tidbits. This was just for starters, Miyuki san assured us.

One of the appetisers was this small plate of sashimi, with a couple of  slices of tai (sea bream), 
ika (squid)  and hamachi ( amberjack).  Freshly grated yellow green wasabi, which tastes nothing
like commercial bright green wasabi  from a tube,  is placed on one side.  

I specially enjoyed this small garden fresh bite of mashed and pureed peas.  I wish it had been 
big enough for two bites.  A cold terrine made of white asparagus was so easy on the palate with a delicate lingering taste.  These two small appetisers alone made the dining experience at Yohira 
so unique and delicious.  And yes, that simmered bit of tako (octopus) was tender and sweet. 

Chawanmushi is a Nagasaki specialty -- Yohira's version was smooth and slid deliciously down 
my throat.  The dashi that went into this dish was first rate, you could taste its umami rich flavour 
adding depth to the creamy custardy goodness.  That small dish on the right contains a sesame infused tofu square resting on a mild slightly jellied sauce.

All these starters were meant to complement the two entrees that came with the meal.  
Entree one, shown in the background was a slice of perfectly broiled fish topped with thinly 
shaved green onions and accompanied by a small piece of  sweet corn.  
Entree two in the foreground was a dish filled with the makings of a pork shabu shabu -- 
with thin slices of pork, mushrooms, tofu and vegetables.

If you're wondering how we cooked our shabu shabu, each of us had been given this tiny  stove. 

The candle flame gave off just the right heat. The thin pork slices cooked in seconds  --  
shabu,  shabu (swish, swish)  and they were done!
Dipped in the accompanying yuzu flavoured sauce, each bite just melted in the mouth.  

This was my entire lunch -- a basket of more than a dozen different small zensai (appetisers)  plus the entrees of grilled fish and shabu shabu.  It was a harmonious blending  of colours, textures and  tastes  -- all for just 2,500 yen  per person.  I can only imagine that Yohira's most expensive 7,000 yen menu must be a spectacular gastronomic feast. 

Washoku or traditional Japanese cuisine is served in small and perfect bites -- there may 
be  many dishes on your tray but they are small portions and each mouthful is a prelude to
the next.   Definitely ...  quality over quantity.  
At the end of our meal, there was room left for a couple of delicious desserts ...  a green tea 
pudding enhanced with mango flavours -- light, refreshing and tasting of summer plus 
a very traditional  red bean dessert,  not as heavy or sweet, in keeping with the season's tastes.
A cup of very good coffee ended this faultless and flawless meal.

Yohira's moss covered stone steps led us back out into the alleyway.  What a delightful lunch interlude that was!

To walk off some of the calories from lunch, we took a bus with Miyuki san to Kazagashira Park.
Located on top of Mt Kazagashira, it was just a twenty minute ride from downtown. 
The scenic winding roads reminded me of Baguio in earlier and greener times.  
The park is a ten minute walk from the bus stop and on a hot and sunny day, I was thankful for the shaded areas along the way.

Big beautiful hydrangeas lined the walkway in Kazagashira Park.  It was difficult not to stop 
and take photos of each and every marvellous  bloom.

The observation platform gives great views of Nagasaki harbour, albeit slightly obscured by the 
thick growth of trees.  Can you see Megami Ohashi in the distance, Kyushu's longest cable bridge.

Jay and I were happy to see our old friend, Ryoma Sakamoto once again here at the top of 
Mt. Kazagashira.  We tried to copy his trademark stance but we didn't do so well,  to omoimasu. 

Otsukare sama deshita  Miyuki san!    It was an amazing first visit to her city.  I wish we could have explored more places with her but we will definitely do that the next time around.


Here is Fukusaya's castela in honey and cocoa flavours --  sliced and ready to eat.  
Moist and delectable --  hmmm, it's so light ... perhaps I'll just have one more slice. 


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